This is going to be a very basic guide on what personally works for me- and I’m going to jump right into it! I’ll also make some advice on whether you should listen to music, or write vs type your notes. I can’t make any really authorised suggestions, because I’m still sitting the HSC, but so far I’m doing amazingly. OK. So, let me begin!
First thing’s first, you’re never just “studying”. You are doing a very specific thing- whether this is writing an essay plan for Discovery or writing notes for a subheading of a Modern History syllabus. Write these down.
An easy way to figure out what to do is just pick out a massive chunk of a syllabus and break your way down. Look at the “students learn how to”, and work on those, or just continue making notes on the content. For subjects like English, the rubric makes it slightly easier. Start writing essay questions based on them. (e.g. Discovery can be confronting and provocative), or make an analysis of your core texts and related ones.
Work in 50 minute blocks
Before sitting down, make sure you will be in a space where you won’t be disturbed for a golden 50 minutes. Put your phone on aeroplane mode, close your bedroom door, act like a crazed psycho-maniac that people wish to stay away from: whatever works (cause no harm please)
In this time you’ll be able to complete the very, very specific tasks which you have assigned yourself.
So try and be realistic with the tasks you want to achieve within the time frame. If you don’t complete something, just move it to the next study block.
Then relax…for 10 minutes
After this period of focused work- take a ten minute break! Jump around, check your phones or do some break-dancing; whatever gets you to temporarily zone out. After say 2-3 hours of study blocks: you can take a longer break, or really just call it a day if you like. A productive one at that.
So, the technique above as is called the Pomodoro technique! There are plenty of apps for Android (my favorite is the Pomodoro Challenge, you literally get harassed at to do work by the virtual man boss, and you can rank up + track the total time you spend studying so it’s great), and for Apple you can try this.
And, I didn’t forget those on Windows, bless my heart (in a nice, non-Southern way).
Adjusting study times
The default time to study in one go is actually for 25 minutes with these apps, and it’s up to you to adjust to how you work- but 25 minutes is a relatively short amount of time and it’s too difficult to actually get into the zone and actually absorb what you’re doing. Taking breaks too often can be very jarring.
However, if you struggle with concentration or work better in short bursts: feel totally free to do whatever works for you, or maybe work your way up if you can. Just keep your breaks shorter (5 minutes)
Personally I actually struggle with forcing myself to get onto a break, but breaks are VERY important. If you’re overworking yourself to the brink of exhaustion and HSC-induced death, you’re going to have a bad time. Namely, this time is basically wasted and you would actually be better off relaxing and doing the procrastination item of your choice.
Note-taking: to type or write?
Some people wonder whether handwritten notes or digital is best- and I’d say that for your notes do that all on your laptop/computer where you can. Handwriting takes up the time where you could actually be revising for exams instead. The only exception is with creative/technical subjects- like maths, visual arts etc. where it would be rather painful.
When do you start hand-writing? In the last 2-3 weeks before assessments, trials, or HSC, when you focus entirely on just revising. This is when you start doing past papers/essays/questions and getting feedback for those if you can- making sure that you also pay attention to weak areas that you haven’t addressed yet.
Writing notes at this stage, is pointless because you probably won’t be lucky enough to be able to regurgitate pages of notes for the marks that you want.
Once again however, some people remember better with writing down notes , and some people study by re-writing their notes over and over until it sinks in. Whatever works for you, go for it.
Reflect on your past exams/assessments
This is really the only way to figure out what works for you. Remember, unless you are truly slacking off day after day, you are probably thinking that you’re working hard. Whenever we get bad exam results, we tend to think that we didn’t work hard enough and as such- we add even more hours.
Usually the case is that you’re not studying SMART enough. This is a nifty example:
After doing an exam and seeing your results- it’s much easier to see how effective your study techniques were. Write down how you actually studied, and the results that gave you. How much time did you actually spend on exam preparation compared to writing notes? When did you start preparing? There’s a massive difference as I mentioned earlier.
Obviously also make a note of what mistakes you actually made, and mark those in your syllabus to plug in those gaps of knowledge- or maybe it was a careless error (THE WORST) maybe try improve exam time-management so you can get some valuable editing and proof-checking time.
Write these new insights and snippets somewhere- whether that be online or on paper.
This is great for your first round of assessments, because then you’ll have a better understanding of how to ace everything that follows! So, if you think you failed those- every cloud has a silver lining.
Where should you study?
Wherever you are able to focus. For some people, this may just be their home: at a living room, or their desk. Just make sure that it can be a quiet, productive retreat for you.
For those who really struggle with procrastination: head to your library, or maybe even to the park with your books and your paper. Again- phone on aeroplane mode (do not connect to public WI-FI). No distractions.
Note: if you’re having a creative rut- definitely take a walk in the park. Morning is best, when birds are aplenty and you have sunlight and crisp air to write out your new beautiful, wonderful ideas on a piece of paper- just let the ink run wild.
Should you listen to music?
For some people, music is great. I used to listen to music (yes with lyrics, it was so much funner) when doing all my study, but for some reason I just can’t do it anymore- it’s much harder to actually focus on your work.
If you opt to study with music, make sure that it’s not a crutch in that you can ONLY concentrate with some tunes in the background.
To-do Lists? Try time-blocking your day as well
To-do lists by themselves aren’t the greatest tool to study with. You need to make sure that you are actually assigning a time to when you think you can reasonably do something. Time-blocking seems like a painful thing to do, but it’s actually pretty awesome because of all the time you save.
That works out because you schedule a number of blocks (in my example: 1 hour- 50 minute study and 10 minute breaks where possible) for each day.
So this would be an example plan:
8-9: Write legal studies notes for Young Offenders from textbook
9-10: Find case studies, legislation, opinion reports for Young Offenders, add into notes.
10.10-11.10: Analyse related text for discovery based on English rubric. Find ideas + evidence (quotes) from books, link to core study- the Tempest.
Of course, don’t make it so rigid that all hell breaks loose if something comes up and you have to abort mission and cry frantically into a pillow with guilt and stress (emotionally unhealthy)
In these holidays, I’ve been doing three hour blocks of “normal” study from 8-11 AM, which is ticking off items that I need to get done this summer, and then on most days an additional block where I solely do exam preparation. Past-papers, practice essays, quizzing yourself on your notes- all fair game. This way, you won’t have to go berserk in the lead up to exams, and do all-nighters.
Usually by noon, I’ll have the rest of the day off! Which is pretty sweet, because that’s like what- 10 hours?
Then- one day of the week, I do absolutely nothing related to school and just totally relax, go volunteering, or go out with friends! (Yes, I actually do have friends whom I love and cherish). Remember not to burn yourself out, especially these holidays. Plenty of fire to come, don’t get impatient, plenty of pain for all.(But with these tips hopefully it will be minimal)
If you feel like you just can’t keep going anymore, don’t push yourself to the point of resent and society-directed hatred (which ends in snark comments to family members) for making you do the HSC. Just take a break.
Do whatever works for you, or at least give it a go.
Finalmente: check out these blogs!
- Study Hacks: Literally the one-stop blog, run by the genius that is Cal Newton. Changed my study habits and attitudes COMPLETELY,
and I may or may not have totally summarised and stolen a whole bunch of his methods in this post.Mind that most of his posts are tailored for college students- but you can still use those tips very well.
- Art of Smart: Specifically for the HSC, it has some pretty sweet guides- both general and subject-specific.
If anyone has a question, please ask, or talk even if you disagree with some thing! I’m an aspiring debater and public speaker (in the shower).